Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Whole Damn Thing--COWBOY BEBOP #3

Hi amigos! All 300,000 bounty hunters in the solar system--how y'all doin'? It's time once again for another installment of Witless Prattle's comprehensive coverage of the entirety of Cowboy Bebop. This week, we look at the end of the first "season" (more or less) of Bebop, and move on to the second half, and have a quartet of episodes wherein things are not what they seem.

In other words, just another week of episodes, really.

"So what else could it be but a horrible alien, huh?"

I used to hate this episode because it seemed to go on and on and it seemed like a stock horror plot with a dash of "Alien" grafted on to "Bebop." Didn't help that it came after "Ganymede Elegy," which I loved so much.

This was a few watch-throughs before I twigged on to the fact that for the most part, plots don't mean shit in Bebop, and they're merely vehicles for characters, and this episode was meant as a character showcase.

So let's knock the plot out the way: Spike's left something in the fridge for a year, and it comes to life, gets out, and starts biting everyone on the Bebop. Spike eventually gets the fridge out of the ship so we can have a 2001: A Space Odyssey homage, and Ed eats the purple blob thing.

The real goal of "Toys" is to shine a light on each of the characters as they deal with some "empty time."--a long hitch of traveling in space, boredom has set in--well, before the blob thing gets loose. Jet loses his shirt (literally) gambling with Faye (who, as is her wont, cheats) and delivers the first of four lessons that frame the episode. Jet's lesson is that anyone who goes in for getting rich quick is going to pay a high price in karma, which he's just paid, of course. Whether he includes Faye in this I leave for you to speculate.

Faye's lesson is that nothing good ever happened to her when she trusted someone, which will make oodles more sense when we start looking at her character in more detail in the later episodes. Faye also gets bitten by the blob thing in the bathtub, because the blob thing was not able to tie her up, I guess.

Ed's lesson is "If you see a stranger, follow him." This is pretty cut and dried, because that's exactly what Ed did when she came aboard the Bebop. Bear in mind, of course, that Ed is even more strange than the collective rest of the Bebop crew. She has no more luck with the blob-thing than anyone else, but then again, it really isn't the point.

Spike's lesson is the last one we hear, and the one that closes the episode, is perfectly in keeping with his character's ongoing repudiation of the idea of any mysticism/predestination/etc. We saw him not take the shaman's warning seriously in "Asteroid Blues," say him scoff at the words of Wen in "Sympathy for the Devil," and so his lesson is the eminently practical admonition that you shouldn't leave things in the fridge.

On the face of it, it's obviously a wink to the audience not to take any of this all that seriously, though if one is so inclined, one could look at it as foreshadowing as if you keep something in your past secret, it can easily come back to bite you later.

Not that that kind of thing ever happens on this show, right?

"I have no luck with them--I'd rather be an armadillo"

Man, the first two scenes of this two parter are murderously awful. They may actually be the shittiest in all of Bebop, but I don't like to dwell on the negative. The Indian mystic stuff is so agonisingly on the nose (even moreso because its reprised at the end of part 2) and has none of the counterpoint stuff that "Asteroid Blues" had, so we're meant to take it seriously, and there is no damn way that one can take at all seriously any more than that My Little Pony episode where they tried to talk about Manifest Destiny.

This is then followed by an equally embarrassing scene of leaden exposition where we are reintroduced to Vicious and Lin, who fails to make an impression in any meaningful way (which is a shame, as he's somewhat more important) because the exposition chews it all up. Here's what I know--Vicious is dispatched to Callisto to broker a drug deal with a man he knows. Lin is sent along because the heads of the Red Dragons don't trust him and go on and on about how Vicious is a snake and Vicious tells Lin he should be prepared to betray him and can we please get on with this?

OK, back at the Bebop, Faye has ripped off the ship and run off with all their money. Naturally, Jet wants to get the money back (Faye he can take or leave) but in the process of getting that plot off and running, Spike hears the name "Julia," and heads off for Callisto, but not before having a knock-down drag-out fight with Jet, who throws him off the ship and we're left to fret that their bromance may never be the same now.

The fact that, in trying to track down what "Codename Julia" is, Spike runs into a transvestite named Julius and there's that whole weird scene where Gren (our nominal main character) tells Faye that if you don't say "take care" when someone sneezes you turn into a fairy really makes me wonder about the subtext of this episode, at times.

We get a good fight wherein we learn that comparing Spike to Vicious will cause him to murder your ass, and he finally faces off with Vicious, but rather than their protracted fight as they had in "Ballad of Fallen Angels," Lin steps between them and shoots Spike dead.

Oh, and Faye finds out that Gren has boobs, because Faye is unable not to be nosy.

We get an explanation for some of this in part 2, which is good, as this episode has really been struggling not to be shapeless. Gren is trying to set up a trap for Vicious, because Vicious saved his life when they were soldiers on Titan and Gren thought that meant they were buddies, but Vicious actually set him up for charges of treason and led to him getting moobs. Concurrent with the man-boobs, Gren is also terminally ill in that oh-so-Japanese way where you look really weak and wan and cough up blood occasionally--it's a good non-specific symptom, and they're a real big believer in it. In any event, Gren is trapped by the past and declares he's both at once, and neither," which on the surface seems to refer to his extra attributes, but in a larger sense, he exists as a distillation of the Bebop crew and their driving struggles to escape their pasts.

There's a nice callback to the end of "Ballad of Fallen Angels" with Spike having feathers (black, this time) raining on him as he wakes up--Lin shot him with a trank dart and we get a few more nuggets about Spike's past--his eyes are two different colours and his left eye sees the past. Spike lays out his plan to leave the Red Dragons to Julia and asks her to come with him, but she can't. Vicious says to someone "I'm the only one who can keep you alive and the only one who can kill you," which is true for more than one person in this series, I'd wager.

Anyways, never mind all the foreshadowing for a bit, we must get on with things. Gren knocks out Faye and ties her up because it;s been two episodes and the withdrawal was killing them. Gren stages a drug deal to give him a chance to face Vicious and ask him why he sold him out, but Vicious sneers that "there's nothing in this world to believe in" and gets Lin killed, because when your mentor's name is Vicious, you kind of expect that and they'd telegraphed it so blatantly my neighbours complained about the excessive foreshadowing and asked could I turn it down please.

Anyways, we get a good fight in the skies above Callisto, Gren gets killed but wants to be sent out to space to return to his past again and the god damned Indians are back to tell us that the falling star is the tear of a warrior and . . . hey, you know what? The song that plays over the credits, "Space Lion" is actually pretty damn good!

Right, well. "Jupiter Jazz" has the makings of a good episode of Cowboy Bebop. So why is it two? It feels extraordinarily padded, and while it has some good dramatic beats and foreshadows a lot of what's to come for everyone, since you don't really know any of that until you get there, you have a two-parter that feels a bit bloated and overlong and the stuff you do learn isn't doled out evenly enough to keep it all lively. I don't hate it . . .but there are a lot of other episode's I'd just as soon watch.

"This is either an idiot or a genius!"

Someone has enacted an insanely intricate plan to punish the manufacturers of the astral gates that make hyperspace travel possible.

If ever there was one episode which blatantly undermined it's own plot, it's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Here is an episode which, while it's going on, basically proves that it's plot is inconsequential when it reveals that the person who planned out this incredibly baroque plot to get back at them . . .is now too senile to really even remember that he did it.

Not only does the plot stand revealed as an intricate but ultimately pointless endeavour, but it actually negates itself. One should admire that kind of gusto, I think, really. There's a really good bit at the end where you get the idea that Spike kind of admires Hex (the literal and figurative chessmaster behind the gate plot) because in completely forgetting his past, he's able to live with a freedom he can't even imagine. It's a subtle thing, but if this episode is truly "about" anything . . .it's probably that.

Also--Ed claps with her bare feet, because of course she does.

I also like that in the future you will have an entire space colony dedicated to growing and smoking marijuana, and I'm certain that will probably be the next Harold and Kumar movie or something.

In any event, that's the end of this week's installment! Join us next week when we get more Faye backstory (in a way that may or may not involve her being tied up--it's hard to know, really) in "My Funny Valentine"; Jet gets into a plot so noirish it might as well take place at midnight in a coal mine in "Black Dog Serenade"; EVERYONE GETS HIGH and also Pam Grier in "Mushroom Samba"; and we end where we begin with "Speak Like A Child." Until then, why don't you go and have a sandwich?

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